One of the most destructive fires in California history... in my backyard

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
A week ago Saturday a massive fire ripped through rural Lake County, CA. On Saturday it roared through more than 40,000 acres in only a few hours. At times it was moving at 33 acres A MINUTE. At latest count almost 1,100 homes have been destroyed. 23,000 people, a full third of the county, had to evacuate.

In some cases people had fewer than 5 minutes to evacuate. Whole families were caught behind fire lines.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lVPB3HI9Wg

The evacuation traffic was reputedly so bad that people abandoned their cars on Highway 29 and fled on foot.

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Many residents had received automated calls on Lake County's 911 system to get out of the way of the fast-advancing fire, but phone lines went out and others had little warning. The roads out were insufficient for the traffic, and cars crashed.

The skeletons of vehicles littered Highway 29 near Middletown.
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-what-happened-fire-20150920-story.html

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Battalion Chief Paul Duncan had to guide his panicked family through the flames on the phone while fighting the fire. He is one of eight firefighters who lost their own homes while defending others.

While on the job, Duncan learned that his own home had become the frontline of the blaze. His wife, his son and two teen daughters were forced to flee in three vehicles packed with a handful of items they grabbed from their home.

His family had to separate along the way, and his young daughters were forced to face the terror of flames alone.

Duncan’s wife, Courtney, wound up taking a different route.

“She made it about a mile before she was surrounded by fire on the roadway,” he says. “She placed a frantic call to me asking me what to do and where she should she go. She had fire all around her. I gave her the advice that she needed to look at the lines on the road and see where they were pointed, and that she needed to drive through the fire. I told her that she needed to step on the gas, look straight ahead and drive through the fire until she got to the other side.”

He placed his faith in his wife and hung up the phone—in front of him, homes were burning to the ground.

http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/wildfires-displace-thousands-northern-california/

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Some people managed to survive hunkered down in vehicles in the middle of bare earth horse arena with their AC blasting

With power lines falling behind him, Smith realized it was too late to evacuate. The only safe haven was the horse arena just outside his home.
“So we went to the arena,” he said. “We all piled into the vehicles and sat in there.”
Smith says the flames made the windows hot to the touch and the sound of the fire was like nothing he had ever heard.

or two hours they hunkered down in the arena, with the flames blowing over the tops of the cars, until their worst nightmare came true. The house Smith built with his own hands eight years ago lit up like a match and burned to the ground in 15 minutes flat.
“It was devastating,” Smith said. “I turned the car around so my wife couldn’t see it.”
http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/20...survivor-cody-smith-pregnant-wife-middletown/

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Others grabbed their dogs and desperately rode it out in pools, or gathered their horses around a water trough and hoped that they would make it.

As the Valley Fire tore through Hidden Valley Lake, Dino Belluomini's neighbor came with his two kids and told everyone to jump in the pool.

Seven people and two dogs stayed put, up to their noses. The heat was intense." It was hot and it just came flying right over, right over, and he said when it was done he goes, 'It's over,'" said Belluomini

http://abc7news.com/news/lake-county-residents-jump-into-pool-to-escape-valley-fire/984751/

Rancher Lisa Comstock said she and her three dogs survived the raging fire in rural Middletown by jumping into a water trough as flames neared her home.

Comstock was also able to keep her horses nearby as the fire burned around them.

"The flames were coming over that mountain and surrounding this place like there was no tomorrow," she said. "I jumped in the water trough with all the dogs, and the horses came up around. Thank God they just stayed here."

At one point she was sure she wasn't going to make it but talking to her animals helped her and the animals keep calm.

"If this is how I go, I'm not leaving these animals. That's all I could think of," she said.

http://www.13abc.com/home/headlines...ion-survival--327838521.html?device=phone&c=y

Most people couldn't do as much for their animals, either pausing in their flight to open gates to let livestock free in the hopes that they could escape, or entirely unable to get home to rescue their pets. Others were forced to choose between the animals they could take with them and the animals they had to leave behind.

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Others rode out the fire, refusing to leave their animals. Facebook is covered in #valleyfirepets with people looking for their beloved animals, or postings of found animals (in varying states of health) who need to be reunited with their families. Folks in Hidden Valley Lake, without power to their wells, have been posting appeals for livestock feed and potable water because if they leave (without transport for their animals) they won't be allowed back in.

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Three towns, Cobb, Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake, are devastated by the flames. Firefighters basically had to draw an arbitrary line to defend the towns because the fire was consuming structures so fast the was no way to save everything.
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People died.

Barbara McWilliams, a 72 year old former teacher with MS who couldn't drive, perished in her house. Leonard Neft, a former San Jose Mercury newpaper reporter, who tried escaping with his dog but was overtaken by the fire. Bruce Burns, who likely was asleep during notifications of the fire and was not even aware of the evacuation. Two more people who have not yet been identified.
http://www.kcra.com/california-wild...te-rain-butte-fire-acreage-decreases/35321460

Evacuation centers in Napa, Calistoga, Kelseyville and Ukiah are overflowing.
http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/general-news/20150914/valley-fire-shelters-open

The Red Cross has set up but, based on many anecdotal reports, hasn't been very useful. (As far as I can tell they do not take material donations but instead require financial donations, which are then not earmarked to the local disaster and are not passed through directly to the locals... they also won't allow pets in their shelters, which has resulted in many families staying outside in the variable raining/burning sun weather with empty shelter buildings because the families have nowhere to safely house their pets.) Vets and animal shelters are valiantly taking in all comers. UC Davis opened an emergency urgent care center for burned animals.

There are bright moments too. A bride-to-be whose fiance barely escaped the fire, and was considering canceling her wedding in the face of all the other, greater needs, had her celebration provided for by local wedding professionals.
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4489094-181/smith-wedding-taken-care-of?page=1?gallery=4483828

The fucking meth heads, admittedly a feature of the landscape in Lake County, have decided this is an opportune time to start looting the still-standing homes behind the evacuation lines.
When deputies searched his vehicle, they found six cell phones, a wallet that didn't belong to Worley, a locked safe and an envelope containing obsidian, or volcanic glass. Worley said he didn't realize he couldn't be driving there, but deputies ended up arresting him for theft during a state of emergency, wearing ID to impersonate a police officer and destroying objects of archaeological value.
http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/loca...ols-During-Valley-Fire-Sheriff-327858671.html

Lake County folks are my neighbors. I have lived in Mendocino County most of my life. linuxboy and I go over to Lake County for dinner on date nights. The Bu-Shay Campground evacuation center is five minutes from my home. But for the grace of God this fire could have been in Mendo instead of Lake, destroyed my home instead of theirs.

I was initially surprised and a little appalled at the lack of media coverage around this, but after consideration I realized this is simply par for the course. Northern California seems to have an immense superpower in the area of "being invisible."

Nearly all of the financial support for the fire victims at this point has come from local small businesses. Feed supply stores, a modular home sales business... we just don't have much industry in this area to pour in financial support. Heck, a search of "Valley Fire" on AT didn't yield any pertinent results, and this is the third most destructive fire in California history. However, I believe AT is a community that relishes making an impact in areas overlooked by the popular media. I also believe that AT is a community that recognizes dire need, and cherishes the opportunity to make a difference. I've seen as much, whether it's through KIVA donations, replacing a small child's stolen Christmas presents, saving a suicidal young man, or so many similar actions.

AT, you've had some amazing power in the past to do great things. This is a time when great things are needed. If you feel at all motivated to help consider doing so.

Timewise consider watching #valleyfirepets on Facebook to match up found pets to their families, especially a week or two from now when the big volunteer rush has slowed down.

Financially consider a donation to the North Coast Opportunities disaster relief fund, through Mendo-Lake Credit Union. They are dispersing funds directly to fire victims.
https://www.ncoinc.org/about-us/news/donate-to-the-lake-county-fire-relief-fund/
 
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AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
A little girl who is a fire victim covers the eyes of her doll (which her mom got for her post-fire at a local thrift store) to protect her from the sight of the fire.
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The firefighters around here and shipped into here are fucking goddamn amazing.
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One of my high school friends, now with CHP, saved someone from their burning home.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGVgksdoLl4

Probably should have mentioned that this fire overall touches three counties - Lake (worst), Sonoma and Napa.
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What little legitimate industry Lake County has is tightly tied up in grapes. It's late in the year for smoke to affect grapes but the mere existence of the fire devalues the grapes because of the threat of smoke taint anyway. Not to mention the straight up destruction of wineries and vineyards anyway.
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/4478939-181/valley-fire-destroys-lake-county?gallery=4479162
 

Away

Diamond Member
May 1, 2005
4,431
1
71
It's horrifying watching portions of my home state being burned to the ground and having family out there still doesn't make it any easier. I have absolute respect for the brave men and women out there on the front lines and my condolences to the families that have lost so much in this new round of fires. I hope the weather aides the firefighters in the coming days and they are able to contain it completely.
 

Strk

Lifer
Nov 23, 2003
10,198
4
76
I get some people survived that way, but trying to hide in a pool seems so risky. I guess if it is your only option, it's what you have to do.
 

John Connor

Lifer
Nov 30, 2012
22,840
617
121
Are they flying Evergreen 747's out there? I'd have a ton of those slurry bombing the shit out of the place.

BTW, nice choice of avatar. Always wanted to go up north. I lived in Riverside.
 
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OutHouse

Lifer
Jun 5, 2000
36,413
616
126
amazing that a grass fire on the road shoulder would destroy this car. wish there was another angle to this.

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thestrangebrew1

Diamond Member
Dec 7, 2011
3,485
412
126
In the Central Valley week before last we were hammered with all the smoke from this fire, along with a few fires in the Sierra Nevada. If I remember right, most schools cancelled all sporting events and outdoor activity because the air quality was so bad. I feel for you OP, and the many others who have lost their homes and loved ones. The fire crews are working non-stop, and fires just keep popping up in places all over the state. It smells like smoke outside my office today in fact.
 

artemicion

Golden Member
Jun 9, 2004
1,006
1
76
In the Central Valley week before last we were hammered with all the smoke from this fire, along with a few fires in the Sierra Nevada. If I remember right, most schools cancelled all sporting events and outdoor activity because the air quality was so bad. I feel for you OP, and the many others who have lost their homes and loved ones. The fire crews are working non-stop, and fires just keep popping up in places all over the state. It smells like smoke outside my office today in fact.

Central Valley was more affected by the Rough Fire (~140,000 acres near Sequoia Nat'l Park) than the Valley Fire (~75,000 acres north of Santa Rosa). Crazy that the fire in OP's post isn't even the biggest fire in California this year.
 

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
Are they flying Evergreen 747's out there? I'd have a ton of those slurry bombing the shit out of the place.

BTW, nice choice of avatar. Always wanted to go up north. I lived in Riverside.

I don't know planes all that well but this was one very dramatic shot of the amazing fire plane work in Middletown.

plane.jpg
 

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
In the Central Valley week before last we were hammered with all the smoke from this fire, along with a few fires in the Sierra Nevada. If I remember right, most schools cancelled all sporting events and outdoor activity because the air quality was so bad. I feel for you OP, and the many others who have lost their homes and loved ones. The fire crews are working non-stop, and fires just keep popping up in places all over the state. It smells like smoke outside my office today in fact.

I'm lucky in that this fire did not affect my home, but Mendocino is just a forested and just as rural as Lake, so it's mostly a coin flip that put this fire down there instead of here.

For anyone who wants to donate and help the fire victims:
https://www.ncoinc.org/about-us/news/donate-to-the-lake-county-fire-relief-fund/

This is a local fund where 100% of the money goes direct to fire victims. It's being handled by a local credit union with no administrative overhead.
 

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
I get some people survived that way, but trying to hide in a pool seems so risky. I guess if it is your only option, it's what you have to do.

Yeah. I don't think anyone did it intentionally, just got stuck behind the lines because the fire was INSANELY fast-moving.
 

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
Pretty intense pictures and stories.

Is this drought-related?

California always has a summer fire season but yes, the drought has made things far worse. Middletown didn't even have enough water to power the hydrants.

Andy Strode was hired to haul water in to Middletown, but couldn't make it to the fire station. When he arrived around 3 a.m., the station was surrounded by flames.

Strode kept a nervous vigil at a different station, helpless to do much as Middletown's own water lines went dry.

"All the hydrants are out of water. I don't understand it," Strode said, refilling his own tanker from the public swimming pool next to charred athletic fields.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-survivors-of-fire-in-middleton-20150913-story.html
 
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John Connor

Lifer
Nov 30, 2012
22,840
617
121
I don't know planes all that well but this was one very dramatic shot of the amazing fire plane work in Middletown.

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That would be a McDonnell Douglas DC-10. I'm not sure if Evergreen has DC-10's or not. Good to see they have the big planes though.
 

OVerLoRDI

Diamond Member
Jan 22, 2006
5,494
4
81
I have been watching this fire closely since it started. Thank you for putting together all this info from a local perspective. Definitely better than all the news articles I have read.

I cannot believe that Middletown and most of the stuff around 175 was destroyed. I rode through there countless times this summer on my motorcycle.

Anyone curious about getting a good overview of this fire and other fires in the state and their current status:
http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_current

The map on the right (and the option for a larger version) gives you a good feel for the scale.
 

thestrangebrew1

Diamond Member
Dec 7, 2011
3,485
412
126
Central Valley was more affected by the Rough Fire (~140,000 acres near Sequoia Nat'l Park) than the Valley Fire (~75,000 acres north of Santa Rosa). Crazy that the fire in OP's post isn't even the biggest fire in California this year.

Thanks for the correction. It was crazy, though obviously not as insane as the videos. Scary stuff :(
 

AreaCode707

Lifer
Sep 21, 2001
18,440
101
91
I have been watching this fire closely since it started. Thank you for putting together all this info from a local perspective. Definitely better than all the news articles I have read.

I cannot believe that Middletown and most of the stuff around 175 was destroyed. I rode through there countless times this summer on my motorcycle.

Anyone curious about getting a good overview of this fire and other fires in the state and their current status:
http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_current

The map on the right (and the option for a larger version) gives you a good feel for the scale.

I'm getting most of my info from the various Facebook groups folks have set up to coordinate donations and volunteers. It's funny, but since this area is too small to really have a robust newspaper or online social community everything winds up falling back to Facebook as the primary mode of connection. There are tons of really unbelievable photos and videos out there that haven't made it to YouTube and aren't very findable, because everyone's posting their personal content to FB alone.

You might have to join the "Valley Fire Information" FB group to see this video but this woman filmed the oncoming fire as her family tried to round up their horses so they could get them out to safety.
https://www.facebook.com/carol.cassel.7/videos/919873721439326/
This is the last video as we were leaving...you can hear the flames like a train as it came roaring up on us. It followed us out as we were leading the horses to safety. They can only go so many miles at that pace and when we had to stop to rest them something made my thoroughbred mare yank back and pull Bret off of the quad...They bolted up the hill at the old Hawver ranch and we're last seen at Doster and Hawver ...Gimli the grey mini horse has phone number on his hoof. Please keep them in your prayers...I am so sick thinking of them out there. We are blessed to. Be loved by all of you
Thank you for all of your support. I will keep you posted...with love and sorrow for all the loss..3

Up close and personal view from some of the firefighters.
https://www.facebook.com/CosumnesFire/videos/1030402493656732/

Helicopter view that shows how extensive the damage is (those hills should be covered in grass, brush and green oak trees.)
https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaOES/videos/899061793483147/


For a moment of cheer - a little boy had his birthday in the middle of loss and evacuation. Some of the folks on Facebook found out that he loves monster trucks, so they pulled together a monster truck party for him.
http://kron4.com/2015/09/17/valley-...give-5-year-old-boy-memorable-birthday-party/

Or the woman who posted this on Facebook on the 20th:
We lost our house in Middletown, as some of you know my husband was in a motorcycle accident about 6 weeks ago, his hand has been too swollen to wear his wedding ring. It was left behind in the evacuation. We're at our property sifting through the mess and... Well....
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Firefighters saved a herd of camels from the fire.
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http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4490528-181/camel-herd-burned-out-in?gallery=4489075

#lakecountystrong
 
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BoomerD

No Lifer
Feb 26, 2006
63,298
11,660
136
We went through that general area this past July. (down 101, across 20 by Clear Lake, then again back up I-5 a couple days later)
Holy crap it was D-R-Y! We lived in NorCal for 25 years. I've never seen conditions that bad there.
Now that we're in Warshington, it's been "dry as a popcorn fart" here this year too. We had the biggest fire in state history this year over on the east side of the state.

Wildfires are scary as hell...they move quickly, can change direction without warning...and there's not a damned thing you can do to stop one when it's headed your direction.

Good luck...this fire season isn't over...and if the west coast doesn't get some much needed rain, next year won't be easy either.